Above: The McAndrews Family. All photos are courtesy of Lindsay Wilkinson Photography.
If you were to drive down Orchard street in the Bailey neighborhood this past Saturday, you would have seen a familiar summer sight: children racing up and down the street on their bicycles while their mother sat quietly under a shade tree, laughing at their shenanigans.
Above: Friends and family walk with the McAndrews family from downtown East Lansing to their home in the Bailey neighborhood.
The week prior, that same family—the McAndrews family—would have been seen walking in their own personal parade, surrounded by friends and family when parents Dave and Rebecca descended from their Michigan Flyer shuttle with the three newest McAndrews children. Seven-year-old twins Edwen and Edner, and their five-year-old sister Tamara, arrived in East Lansing from their Haitian orphanage to join their U.S.-born sisters, eleven-year-old Kate, and nine-year-old Kinsey.
What a difference a week—or four years—makes. “Our adoption began by signing on with our agency in March 2012. We were matched with our twin boys by our agency on October 3, 2012 and officially brought everyone home on June 18, 2016. It was definitely a long, painful process, but completely worth the commitment.”
Dave and Rebecca (known by most in East Lansing as “Becca”) had long known they would expand their family by adopting. Becca said, “Dave and I have always felt that adoption would be a part of our way to grow our family. We both have a deep-rooted faith in God and believe all Christ-followers are created to serve and love others. While we know that 'service' might look different for other families, we know adoption was the right choice for us.” They started preparing for this work when they were living in Florida by training to become a foster family.
Above: Edwen McAndrews rests on his father's shoulder, upon their arrival in East Lansing.
When they moved to Michigan, they continued their pursuit to become a licensed foster care family, but ultimately decided against it. Becca explained, “The foster care program in MI was very different than in FL and it didn't feel like a good fit for our family. We took a 'break' to determine which way to head at that point, and eventually it led to our agency and we were matched with our boys.
And then they waited.
Over the next four years, Becca—herself a paraprofessional teacher at Donley Elementary School, a writer, and former Schools Editor for East Lansing Info—chronicled this journey on her blog to keep her friends and family updated on the adoption and, in part, to help answer the question: why is it taking so long?
Above: Lilla Wilkinson greets Tamara McAndrews, while big sister Kinsey McAndrews stands beside her.
Becca explained that it was a combination of factors that caused their adoption process to endure. After the McAndrewses were matched as adoptive parents to Edwen and Edner, “Haiti underwent many changes to their adoption process because they became a Hague country. The Hague's purpose within international adoption is to protect children and guard against child trafficking, however during its implementation it slowed many processes down almost to a halt.” Such an approach may be especially important in a country like Haiti, which had unearthed some problematic international adoption practices after a major earthquake in 2010. The new Hague procedures were designed, in part, to be especially thorough to protect Haitian families and children.
Further complicating the process was that as the McAndrews’ “dossier,” the official adoption application file that linked them to their twin sons, made its way through the Haitian bureaucracy, the boys’ biological sister, Tamara, was relinquished to the same orphanage. The McAndrewses agreed to adopt Tamara with her brothers, but there was debate among Haitian adoption officials about the suitability of that placement. Eventually, Tamara was added to their adoption application dossier.
And then are the children’s names, themselves. At various stages in the process, Edwen’s name has appeared with different spellings or as a different name altogether, and as the dossier moved through each complicated step, the adoption agency would have to scramble to redo, or provide again, evidence of his identity. Much of this work is done on paper, and filed in person, so each step requires a commitment of time and patience. As Becca described it, these discrepancies were layered “on top of typical paperwork issues that arise between two countries with incredibly different cultures, languages, and traditions, and definitely delayed their homecoming.”
But on June 18th, 2016 Dave and Becca escorted their three youngest children home.
The McAndrews family was as prepared as they could be. “We really are so thankful to both our current adoption agency and the foster care agency in Florida for really educating us on post-adoption services, behaviors, etc. To be honest, we haven't been surprised by very much at all. We've read and researched attachment parenting extensively because of agency requirements and on our own, and have found some amazing supportive groups both online and in our extended community to help walk us through the attachment and bonding process. It's not something that happens overnight, or even in just a few weeks, and is something we will work on for many years, through our children's various developmental stages,” said Becca.
Right now, that means spending as much time alone as possible in order to establish appropriate behavior and help the children understand what it means to be in a “family.” Becca said “one of our most frustrating experiences is probably educating them on boundaries in general. The kids were in a wonderful orphanage and really well cared for and loved, but they exhibit some institutional behaviors--feeling free to ask ANY adult nearby to care for them, no understanding of personal space, competitiveness for affection and attention—that, frankly, are exhausting.” The adjustment also means helping Tamara get past her initial terror at meeting the family dog. That means helping the children learn that in the United States, one flushes toilet paper down the toilet.
And that means adjusting to new roles. Kinsey, a rising fourth grader at Marble elementary, moved from only “little sister,” to “big sister of three” when Edwen, Edner, and Tamara arrived. Kinsey said, "it's cool. I like being a big sister but I like being a little sister better."
Above: Kinsey (center) and Dave (right) hold Edwen's hand as they walk toward their EL home.
“We’re all adjusting,” added Becca.
Kate, the oldest McAndrews sister and a rising sixth grader at MacDonald Middle School, recalls some vivid moments happening when her community helped celebrate her family’s joy. In the spring, Becca had emailed Shane Johnson, Kate’s teacher at Marble, to share the good news that one of the final steps in the process had been completed and the kids were coming home in just a few weeks. “He called me up to read the email aloud to the class and everyone cheered and clapped,” said Kate.
As for Tamara, Edwen, and Edner, the adjustment has had highs and lows. The boys learned quickly to ride a bike, and all three discovered they love to swim.
For Becca, one funny development is that “their first experiences with faucets both in the airports and also the hotel in America were ALL motion activated. Now they try to activate EVERY faucet they encounter with motion instead of turning the handle like the rest of us ‘common folk’.” And while she knows there remain many big obstacles to overcome, Becca said one of the most joyful parts of her first week as a full-time mother of five children is “that there have been a couple or moments around the dinner table or laughing with one another in the yard where I get a glimpse of us as a ‘real family.’ Things feel ‘normal,’ like they used to, and I know that even though change and transition is hard--especially for our children who've just left everything they've ever known--we will make it through and our family will be stronger for it.”
Welcome to East Lansing, Tamara, Edner, and Edwen!